The story of Benj Sampson (and Juan Rincon)

Jesse had a nice essay on Juan Rincon yesterday morning, hailing the seemingly-certain end of the "Juanny" era in Minnesota.  Yesterday afternoon, Rincon gave up four more earned runs, his fourth consecutive appearance allowing at least one run.

While it's certainly a tough stretch for Rincon, it's not the worst run-allowing streak by a Twins reliever - not by another ten appearances.  That honor goes to former reliever Benj Sampson, who in 1999 went an astonishing fourteen consecutive relief appearances without shutting the other team out, tied for the longest such streak in the major leagues since at least 1956.

After the jump, a look at that streak - and how it ties in with Rincon's latest problems.

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Sampson began 1999 in the starting rotation, but got knocked out of the box early in all three of his April starts, thus amassing a 16.88 ERA as a starter.  A demotion to the bullpen soon followed, but for awhile, things went somewhat smoothly; in his first 11 relief appearances following the demotion, Sampson had a 3.75 ERA.  He even started June with a pair of very nice scoreless appearances, throwing 2.2 innings in a loss, then picking up his first win of the year in relief against the Astros, allowing only one hit over 3.2 innings.

Even as the fateful streak began, on June 12, things still seemed fine. That day, Sampson replaced starter LaTroy Hawkins only five batters into a game against Milwaukee, going 4.1 innings, allowing three earned runs, and again getting the win after the Twins put up six runs in the fourth. 

Eleven days later, he did virtually the same thing in Chicago; five of the first seven White Sox reached, Tom Kelly jerked starter Mike Lincoln the heck out of there, and Sampson came to the rescue, allowing four runs in five innings of work while the offense got busy pounding out 19 hits in a wild 12-10 win.  At that point, Sampson was 3-0 as the bullpen's long man, despite allowing runs in four straight appearances.

Unfortunately for Sampson, his duties as mop-up man were about to get to him.  When he next pitched, ten games later, the Tigers got him for six runs in 3.2 innings.  Four days later, the Indians put two more on the board against him.  And so, after winning three games in June, Sampson went down the tubes in July, allowing 14 runs in 13.1 innings over five appearances.

Luckily, or maybe unluckily, for Sampson, the 1999 Twins were more or less devoid of starting pitching.  (Remember, this was a team that regularly gave the ball to such luminaries as Dan Perkins and Gary Rath, to name two forgettable names.)  And so on August 3, he trooped back to the hill to take on Texas.

Corey Koskie booted the first ground ball of the game.  It was probably a sign.  Sampson responded by giving up singles to the next five Rangers hitters, allowing four runs in the process.  He managed to fight his way out of the first, sat down, then gave up two walks and a single to begin the second. 

If there had been a boxing referee, he would have stopped the fight at that point.  Tom Kelly just took the lefty out, and sent him back to the bullpen.

It was pretty much all over for Sampson after that.  He pitched five more times that August, including a game in which he gave up ten hits to the Yankees, including a Chuck Knoblauch grand slam.  On August 19, he gave up two hits, two walks, and two runs in one inning to the Orioles, and the Twins had seen enough.  They sent him back to the minors and brought up Jason Ryan, who briefly thrilled everyone with a complete-game two-hitter and eight marginally-decent starts before falling into obscurity.

And so here's the tie-in with Rincon.  Over that 15-game stretch - 14 relief appearances and one start - Sampson never once failed to give up a run.  He gave up 39 earned runs in 38 innings, including eight home runs, in what surely must stand as one of the worst relief-pitching stretches in baseball history.  And through it all, batters amassed a .391 batting average against Sampson, and a 1.024 OPS.

In his past nine games, Juan Rincon has allowed runs only seven times - but in that span, opponents have a 1.090 OPS against him, and a .370 batting average.

When there are legitimate comparisons to be made between a player's current stretch, and the longest run-allowing streak in the last 50 years of major-league baseball relief pitching - yeah, it's probably time to think about making a move.

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